Program Cummings Relationships Goodand Not So Bad 1989 1 Copy Cropped

A First in Leadership Is Never Truly First

By Legacy Russell, Executive Director & Chief Curator

Sep 7, 2021

Dear Friends,

In September 1980—41 years ago, and less than a decade beyond The Kitchen’s initial founding—Linda Goode Bryant, founder of avant-garde art space Just Above Midtown Gallery, launched an exhibition titled Dialogues, which brought into conversation artists from diverse backgrounds and disciplines, alongside fifteen New York City spaces deemed part of the “alternative art scene.” The Kitchen was one of the participating organizations.* As an intersectional collaboration, Bryant’s orchestrating of this show was a timely critique of the state of the arts and, too, enacted a call to action across the field to peer into the future, considering radical and expansive ways in which “alternative,” “experimental,” and “avant-garde” could be reassessed, reimagined, and rearticulated.

Standing in that future now—as I begin in my new role as the first-ever Black Executive Director & Chief Curator of this legendary institution fifty years in the making—it feels necessary to hearken back to Bryant’s Dialogues and the questions the exhibition posed as a congregating, gathering, and convening. What was said aloud via Dialogues spoke to the ways in which the art world, even when focused on radical experimentalism, remains largely siloed and segregated.

Today, we still have work to do: here in Manhattan, where I hail in my family history from both Harlem and the East Village, and where I write to you now, from The Kitchen’s home on West 19th Street, we have uptown, midtown, and downtown, as well as East and West, as potential divides. Across the city, we have our incredible five boroughs and the cultural institutions and enduring creative communities that continue to challenge, shape, and inspire this pivotal moment in art and art history. Thus alternative, experimental, and avant-garde are taxonomies that certainly change shape and form as we move not only through these refracted histories, but also through this city itself, one that we love and keep on celebrating. We have to really work to keep converging, holding space for sharing space, and remaining in dialogue across divides.

It must be said: a first in leadership is never truly first. Many before me have made possible this moment of dazzling future possibility at The Kitchen, including: George Lewis (Music Director, 1980–82; Guest Curator, 2008), Bob Wisdom (Music Director, 1984-86), Ann T. Greene (Guest Curator, Literature, 1990s), Greg Tate (Guest Curator, 1990s), Carl Hancock Rux (Guest Curator, Literature, 1999), Dean Moss (Dance/Performance Curator, 1999–2004; Curatorial Advisor, 2005–2009), Treva Offutt (Education and Outreach Director, 1998–2003; Curator of Family Programming, 2003–2004), Rashida Bumbray (Assistant Curator 2006–2008; Associate Curator 2009–2011), and more.

This organization’s avant-garde mission has reconceived minimalism with composer Julius Eastman , exploded hip-hop with Fab 5 Freddy , transformed modern and postmodern dance and choreography with Blondell Cummings , pioneered Fluxus performance and video art with Shigeko Kubota , expanded the poetic form with Sapphire , remade the black box with Butch Morris, broken the mold of sculpture with Senga Nengudi , proposed new directions in new media with Pamela Z , and defied boundaries in the company of Bill T. Jones —and that’s just the beginning. The conversation is clear: the groundbreaking innovations of an alternative art world have been paving the way for the rest of the world, right from the start.

As we take these steps together—as we embark upon a new journey as well as enter a new chapter—I’m calling on each of you to join us, and to be part of the change we are striving collectively to make not only in the arts, but in the world at large. Looking forward with determination and care toward this next half-century of The Kitchen, let’s commit to a local, national, and international vision of dance, film, music, theater, video, visual art, and literature. Opening our doors to the future of risky, radical, rigorous alternatives, our hope is to keep investing in pathways of discovery away from the center, toward the ecstatic edges that keep us dreaming, building, exploring, experimenting. We’ll meet you there.

Yours in solidarity,

Legacy Russell, Incoming Executive Director and Chief Curator

*From a letter about Dialogues written by Linda Goode Bryant, dated September 15, 1980:
“The participating spaces are: A.I.R., American Indian Community House, Artists Space, Basement Workshop, Cayman, Cinque Gallery, Creative Time, Drawing Center, El Grupo Morivivi, Franklin Furnace, Inter-Art Gallery, Just Above Midtown, The Kitchen Center, New Museum, and SOHO 20.

The show will offer viewers a unique opportunity to assess the increasingly important alternative art scene. Exhibiting simultaneously, under one roof, will be spaces as differing in their emphases and levels of funding as multi-discipline centers and community/ethnic galleries, funded alternative spaces and feminist collectives—and artists as varied as Stuart Sherman, Rolando Peña, Donna Henes, David Hammons, Edgar Heap of Birds, Garret List, and Sari Dienes...”

Image: Program for Blondell Cummings, Relationships: Good and Not So Good, November 30-December 3, 1989 at The Kitchen. Detail. Learn more online through The Kitchen Archive

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